Serenade in the Cemetery sure to entertain
NATCHEZ — The lives of the residents of the Natchez City Cemetery will come to the surface Saturday as their stories are retold and offset by music, springtime blooms and the treading of visitors’ feet.
The first Serenade in the Cemetery from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday embraces a new trend in the life of cemeteries, event co-chair Annette Holder said.
“Cemeteries are going toward being more of a social place for people to enjoy,” she said.
The musical storytelling serenade highlights the Natchez City Cemetery for what it represents to the city — not a just relic of lives lost, but a celebration of the history of Natchez.
“You know there’s a quote from Ben Franklin, who said, ‘Show me your cemetery, and I’ll tell you about your town,’” Holder said.
“And that’s just so true.”
Holder said residents have lately requested a daytime event similar to annual Angels on the Bluff, a popular nighttime autumn event that sells out each year. But unlike the guided tour of Angels on the Bluff, Holder said the serenade will have more of an “open house” feel.
“(The serenade is) a way for people to go out and spend the day wandering around cemetery at their own pace,” Holder said.
Nine actors will play host and hostess of the cemetery’s open house by retelling the stories of the natives buried at different times.
Betty Lou Hicks will play a character at the grave of Florence Irene Ford, whose mother grieved the young girl’s untimely death so much that she had a window built in the child’s casket because Ford was afraid of the dark, Holder said.
Beau Allen will play Captain Leathers, a steamboat captain from the 1800s.
Sam Jones will play Maj. Isaac Guion, a Revolutionary War soldier who raised the first American flag with its 13 stars in Natchez.
Justin Robinson will play his grandfather, J.T. Robinson, who was the Natchez police chief in the stormy 60s in Natchez during the Civil Rights era.
“We have so many important people (buried in the cemetery) and some average people, but all of them have a story,” Holder said.
With the help of Casey Gilbert sound productions, musical performances will also add a social air to the event.
Sylvia Johns-Ritchie and O’Neal Douglas will direct a performance of a group of students from Concordia Parish from 1 to 3 p.m. The local classic rock band, Last Band Standing, will play from 3 to 4 p.m. And the Rev. Walton Jones and Funky Friars will give their first performance as a group from 4 to 5 p.m.
The First Baptist Church hand bell choir will also perform between acts.
Holder said Natchez native and internationally known florist John Grady Burns has volunteered his floral services to the event, as well.
Attendees will also have a chance to purchase a coffee-table book by Burns, the book “Legends of the Natchez City Cemetery” by former cemetery director Don Estes, bluebird houses and Christmas wreathe orders for gravesites.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased that the Natchez Visitor’s and Reception Center or at the cemetery gate. Attendees can park at the cemetery or at the Natchez Little Theater, where a shuttle will transport patrons to the event.
Holders said she hopes the event will bring continued awareness of the maintenance needs of the 190-year-old Natchez City Cemetery.
Musicians will perform from a single stage area and actors will tell their tales on 15-minute interviews, starting at the top of the hour. John McLemore and Terry Trovato will both lead tours, and there will be other knowledgeable docents on Catholic Hill and on Jewish Hill for any questions grave walkers might have.
If the stories don’t entice visitors, Holder said the sheer beauty of the rolling hills and 19th century monuments should.
“Really it’s like walking through a garden of sculpture,” she said.